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From the Desk: Embracing a student-ready philosophy

By Julie Payne-Kirchmeier

September 07, 2023

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier. Photo by Wendi Chitwood, Indiana University Julie Payne-Kirchmeier. Photo by Wendi Chitwood, Indiana University“Students are the center of the universe for everything we do at Indiana University.”

In this one statement, President Pamela Whitten crystalized the focus for Indiana University. Simply put, our students are the lifeblood of the university, and all of us must focus on what it takes to help them thrive.

Our students are the reason for our work. They bring energy and curiosity, and they challenge us to be better than we are today. However, for IU to truly embrace this student success mindset, we must shift our efforts and become a student-ready institution. But what does it mean to be “student-ready”?

In their book “Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success, the authors say that a student-ready institution “define(s) student success in a way that represents a paradigm shift — reframing the student success conversation from one of pre-college characteristics and student deficits, to one of student assets and institutional opportunity, leadership and accountability.” In other words, it becomes much more about how the university or college has worked intentionally, systemically and holistically — keeping the student at the center of this work — in creating an environment that helps every student to thrive.

It’s important to understand that a student-ready culture is not about doing things for students or taking away student agency in their collegiate experience. Rather, a student-ready university recognizes the student as a whole person, and requires the university to embrace our role as facilitators — not gatekeepers — of the student experience. Student-ready campuses embrace their responsibility in student success, keep students at the center of all that they do, and ensure that our students succeed.

The benefits of creating and sustaining a commitment to a student-ready culture are numerous. When we foster such a culture, it creates an environment where students are more likely to thrive, both academically and personally. Numerous researchers in student success work — including many of Indiana University’s own professors and scholars — have noted multiple benefits that come from focusing on student readiness and student success, including:

  • Academic success: When students feel supported in their academic lives, they are more likely to engage, perform at a higher level, stay in school and make progress toward their academic goals, and they are far more likely to graduate.
  • Personal growth and development: Student-ready cultures provide opportunities for students to explore their interests, engage in different communities and develop important life skills necessary for long-term success.
  • Emotional well-being: A student-ready culture supports the emotional needs of students. When students feel emotionally supported, they are more likely to fully engage in both academic and personal pursuits.
  • Career readiness: Students at institutions that focus on student readiness are more prepared for success post-graduation in their chosen careers.
  • Sense of belonging: Student-ready cultures embrace diversity and inclusion, and create multiple ways in which students find communities within the institution. When students feel included and respected, they are more likely to thrive in all aspects of their university life.
  • Embracing feedback and learning: Student-ready institutions, by design, are supportive spaces for students. In this type of environment, feedback is welcomed and expected. In addition, the institution asks for and learns from student feedback, placing high value on their experiences.
  • Sense of purpose: A student-ready culture helps students find the value in their educational journey, thereby increasing the likelihood of thriving and succeeding.

Because we want these benefits for all of our students, our IU 2030 strategic plan clearly emphasizes our responsibility to create a student-ready culture. In our university-level goal statement, we publicly state our commitment to students and, by extension, this culture: “IU will ensure the long-term success of all students by providing the highest quality of education through a rich, diverse and engaging environment.” And many campuses have similar goals found in their own campus-based plans.

I am heartened to see our campuses owning this commitment through visioning documents and stated goals. I know the impact this will have on programs and services, redesigned courses, student success trainings, data-informed decisions, technology solutions, and direct engagement of students. These actions will get us closer to our student-ready goal, and we’re already starting to see changes.

However, to truly cultivate a student-ready culture, we need to do more. As Indiana University, we must remain focused on intentional, holistic and student-centered efforts, and scale these across our campuses so all of our students will benefit. Boutique programs and isolated efforts help some students, but not all. This work will be hard, but it will be worth it.

The Office of the Vice President for Student Success commits to collaborating with you to co-create a strong, meaningful student-focused environment here at Indiana University. Please engage with our team as we continue to visit our campuses and meet with faculty, staff and students.

Be on the lookout in the coming months for opportunities to participate with critical large-scale projects, like the implementation of our new student success platform, student success data visualizations, community of practice convenings and larger initiatives designed to help IU become the student-ready university I know we can be.

I am excited to work with each of you, alongside my colleagues in OVPSS and on each campus, for the benefit of our students we are privileged to serve each day. Every Indiana University student has the potential to succeed; let’s do our part to make sure that they do.

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier is vice president for student success for Indiana University.